7 Words That Protect Our Marriage

By | Christians, Marriage | No Comments

Cheryl and I are in a good season of life and marriage. In many ways it is a stressful season with work, family demands, and constant transition, but it is a good season in so many other ways. We’ve been empty-nesters for a number of years now and we’ve adjusted to it well. It was hard missing our boys at first, but we enjoy our time together. These are some of the best years of our marriage.

The greatest thing I can say about our marriage is that we can’t think of anyone we would rather be with. When we are off from work we want to be with each other.

Isn’t that a great feeling?

We have always intentionally strived to protect our marriage. It’s always a work in progress, but we know that if we ever let up the enemy will win.

I’ve been asked many times how we keep our marriage strong.

Here are 7 words to capture how we strive to protect our marriage:

Walk. Cheryl and I walk together almost every day. I’m typing this after we returned home from an evening walk. When weather and time permits, we walk hours and miles together. We’ve now become “mall walkers” when weather isn’t conducive to being outside.

As an introvert, I talk more — and am more comfortable doing so — when I am being physically active at the same time. Our communication is strengthened when we have an activity we do together regularly. So, we walk.

Talk. And that’s so incredibly important. As we walk we talk about our day. We debrief our life. There are always moments of the day we would have to explain to understand them. Explaining cuts down the surprise factors in our life. I’m a part of every aspect of Cheryl’s life and she is of mine.

Question. Cheryl and I have been known to ask some strange questions of each other. More than, “What are you thinking?”. Cheryl or I might ask something such as, “If you had one prayer — and only one prayer — for our boys, or for me, what would it be?” We ask questions that keep us thinking deeper about our life and each other.

Dream. Everyone has them. Some of us hide them better than others. Cheryl and I have a consistent habit of dreaming together. No dream is too small or too large.It may or may not become reality, but that’s okay. It’s fun and energizing of our relationship to dream together.

Laugh. We don’t have the same sense of humor, but it doesn’t matter. We enjoy laughing together about whatever there is to laugh about at the time. It would probably be silly and not funny to anyone else, but that’s okay.

Cry. I’ve got to be honest on this one. I’m not a big crier. I cry, but very selectively and very privately. But Cheryl and I are willing to be vulnerable with each other. I’m not afraid to tell her I’m afraid or that I’m hurt. I can admit when I wish life was different than it is — even if I have to say it with tears in my eyes.

Love. Cheryl and I deeply love each other. It’s the kind of love that can overlook the flaws we bring to the relationship. Love is ultimately a choice we make. A deep, committed, loyal kind of love is a choice. I choose Cheryl and she chooses me.

What keeps your marriage strong?

7 Things I’d Say to Parents of Married Adult Children

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In helping marriages, I often try to share some of the barriers that I have seen to having a good marriage. My theory is that if couples are aware of the barriers before they become an issue it’s much easier to deal with them when they arise.

One of the consistent barriers I have seen in having a strong marriage is the way the couple deals with outside influences. It could be friends, family, work, or hobbies. It’s mostly people.

One of those primary outside influences that many couples struggle with is dealing with parents.

I am a parent of adult married children – two of them. Cheryl and I are trying to be good parents and in-laws by learning from other people’s experiences we have encountered in ministry.

Here’s some of my best advice for parents of married adult children:

Remember “leave and cleave” and let them experience it.  Two people are trying to become one. That’s the goal. That means the two can’t be part of another unit in the same way they have been. Yes, they are still family, but they are creating something new. Their relationship will likely look different from yours — hopefully it will even be better.

No doubt you have influenced who they are as a couple. That may be in good and bad ways. Let them as a couple determine what they keep of your influence and what they leave behind. That may include leaving behind some of the family traditions you have too. And that obviously can be harder to accept.

Know this: Everything you say to your child impacts their spouse. One way or another. And it will likely either be repeated and injure your relationship with their spouse or cause a hidden wedge in their relationship. You can’t expect them to become one as a couple if you have a private world of communication with your child. If they are trying to be a good husband or wife they will not keep secrets from their spouse.

There may be times where it is necessary for them to come to you in secret. But those should be rare in my opinion. You can help them reduce friction in their marriage by not contributing to or promoting private conversations.

They sense the pressure to “come see you”. Chances are they have pressure elsewhere too. Maybe even from other parents. How welcoming is it if you spend most your time talking to them complaining how little you see them?

Yes, it’s hard when you feel slighted in the amount of attention you receive, but guilt and complaining won’t accomplish what you’re attempting. It might even get them there, but it won’t promote quality time with them.  And it will often build resentment.

Get rid of the phrase “What you should do is”. It isn’t helpful because it’s usually received with an immediate pushback. Again, they are trying to form their own identity as a family.

Offer advice only if you’re asked. It’s not that you don’t have some good advice. And they might even be better off if they listened to your advice from experience more often. But most couples want to discover things on their own just as you possibly did when you were younger.

Unsolicited advice is almost never seen as valuable as solicited advice.

Be an encouraging place to hang out. All young couples need to see healthy people and healthy relationships. Marriage is hard without any outside influences. So the more healthy and fun environment you can create for them the more often they will want to be a part of that environment.

Love them both unconditionally. I would even say equally, but I understand that’s hard. You’re going to naturally lean towards favoring your own child, especially when there is friction or conflict in the relationship. Be patient with both of them. Give grace generously to both. And, perhaps most difficult, hold your tongue when you’re tempted to say something that could be hurtful.

Finally, forgive quickly when needed. Remember, you are supposed to be the maturer people in this season of life.

I am praying with you as we attempt healthy parenting of adult married children.

Funniest Questions I Received as a Church Planter

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Here are the funniest questions I received as a church planter:

“When are you going to build a church?” 

I always thought, “Well, that’s what we are doing now meeting in this high school.” (Oh, you mean a building, but, of course, you’d agree the church is not the building, right?  )

“Are you going to keep doing this?” 

For whatever reason, it seemed that some believed a church plant was temporary. (Until a “real church” comes along I guess.)

“What’s your other job?” 

I realize all pastors get this one, but many plants start with bi-vocational pastors. Not all do though and sometimes planting IS our job. Trust me, there’s plenty to do.

“When you get a building will you quit having small groups?” 

This usually came from someone who was accustomed to Sunday school, but it was funny that their tradition led them to believe that a lack of space would be our only reason to do church this way. (Meeting in homes during the week – that’s so first century  )

“How did this thing get started?”

Many times this was an innocent question. I learned, however, mostly because of follow up questions, that sometimes this was a question looking for some inside scoop, a scandal of sorts, a church split – that kind of thing. There’s almost an expectation that a “story” exists with a church plant. In my experience, a church plant is far more about what God is calling someone to than what someone is running from.

Have you been part of a church plant? What questions were funny to you?

One Sign You’re Doing Good Work as a Leader

By | Church, Church Revitalization, Leadership | 2 Comments

Do you want to know one sign you’re actually doing well as a leader?

It’s not fool proof, but it’s pretty telling – in my experience.

You’ll know you’re doing good work when…

People oppose you!

And I think we have Biblical principles to illustrate this.

“But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door of effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.” 1 Corinthians 16:8-9

Here is the reality – few people worry about the people doing nothing.

Have you noticed the more you do for good the more opposition you receive? 

7 Actions I Recommend When A Church is Declining

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What should you do when a church is in decline? I get asked that question a lot.

It should be noted there are no cookie-cutter solutions for reversing a church in decline. Churches have unique characteristics, because they have different people. There are different reasons which cause decline. And ultimately, God is in control of all of this.

I would be considered arrogant and even hurtful to pretend to have all the answers for a church I do not know.

There are a few suggestions, which come from working with churches in decline.

Here are 7 suggestions:

Evaluate

What is going wrong? Why are less people attending and new people are not? Ask the hard questions. Is it programmatic, a people problem, or a Biblical issue? Don’t be afraid to admit if your church is just plain boring.

If nothing has changed in the programs you offer in the last 10 years – I may already have your answer. But ask questions. Ask for inside and outside opinions. This takes guts, but is critically necessary.

Ask visitors. Recruit a “secret shopper” attendee to give you an objective look at the church. Evaluate even if you are afraid to know the answers. You can’t address problems until you know them.

Own it

The problems are real. Don’t pretend they are not. At this step, cause or blame is not as important. They were important in the first step, because they may alter your response, but now the problems are yours. They are not going away without intentionality. Quit denying. Start owning the issues. I see too many churches avoid the issues because they are difficult – or unpopular – to address.

Find a Bible story where people of God were called to do something which didn’t involve a certain level if risk, hard work, fear or the necessity of faith.

Address major, obvious issues

This is hard. Perhaps the hardest one. If the church has “forgotten your first love” – repent. When the church holds on to bitterness and anger from the past – forgive. Sometimes walking by faith has been replaced by an abundance of structure. In these times you may need to step out boldly into a new area of ministry.

If the church is in disunity it must come together first. When the church loves the traditions of men more than the commands of God it must turn from sin. And, if the problems involve people, you can’t be a people pleaser. (I told you this is hard.)

Find alignment

Where does the church best find unity? What will everyone get excited about doing? This is many times a vision, or a moment in history that was special to everyone, or a common thread within the DNA. Find and focus attention on it.

In my experience, God will not bless a church in disunity, but churches have issues, causes or programs that everyone can get excited about and support. Church leaders must be working together to build enthusiasm, momentum and unity.

Regroup

At some point, regardless of how drained you feel from the decline, you’ve got to come to a strategy of what to do next. You need a road map of where you are going in the next season. (It is Biblical to think ahead. Consider Luke 14:28)

I’ve never personally been able to plan in great detail more than twelve months out and sometimes, especially in times of less clarity, only a few months, but you need a plan. Start with your overall vision and explore ideas of how to accomplish it again.

Put some measurable goals in place to make progress – things you’ll do next week, next month, and in a few months down the road. It will hold you accountable if you have an action-oriented strategy and build momentum as people have something to look forward to doing.

Reignite

Put your energy and resources where it matters most. This often involves getting back to the basics of what it takes to achieve your vision. If you are a church with a heart for missions, for example, amp up your mission efforts. When special events are the church’s wheelhouse then do them. It may mean not doing things that aren’t working or things that tend to drain energy and resources. Look for what is working, or has the potential to work again – the fastest, and begin to stir energy around that program or ministry.

You need quick wins so the church can feel a sense of progress again.

Celebrate

There will be wins. You may have to look for them some days, but when they occur celebrate. Remind people that God is still moving among you. Now, it should be noted, for the overly celebratory types, that you can’t celebrate everything. If everything is wonderful – or amazing – then wonderful and amazing is really average. They need to be legitimate wins. If you celebrate mediocrity you’ll set a precedent of mediocrity. But, when you see signs of heading in the right direction, make a big deal out of it.

Those are seven suggestions. I strongly encourage you, if you want to see the church growing again – if the church yearns for health again – be intentional. Be willing to ask for help. Raise the white flag and invite honest dialogue.

The harvest is ready – the workers are few – we need you! We are losing too many churches and not planting and reviving enough. Do the hard work. Pray without ceasing. And, trust your labor will not be in vain. Praying for you.

What suggestions do you have for a church in decline?

5 Actions Before I Preach

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As a pastor, I was often asked what my routine was as I prepared to preach on Sunday mornings. Ultimately, it’s all about Jesus, but I realize I have a responsibility as a shepherd to do all I can to be prepared.

Ideally, I always tried to be completely finished with my sermon Friday, so I could take Saturday off. Sometimes I would spend an hour or so on Saturday doing one final edit. I tried to limit my activities and get a good night’s rest Saturday night. I spent Sunday mornings doing one final edit of the message.

I had some Sunday morning routines, which best helped me prepare.

5 ways I prepared to preach on Sunday mornings:

Read something in the Bible other than the passage I’m preaching on 

I wanted to feed myself before I try to teach others. Often I am reading through the Bible and I continued this on Sunday mornings.

Pray 

I spent longer on Sunday mornings than other mornings in prayer. It prepared my heart. I prayed for those who will be in attendance and those who may still be debating attending. I prayed for God’s presence to be with us. I prayed for other leaders in the church. I sought a sense of oneness with God’s heart to mine.

Exercise 

I didn’t get to do this every Sunday, but when I did I was more mentally alert and physically prepared than when I didn’t.

Worship 

Ideally, I loved to put the Sunday morning line up of worship music in a playlist and allow the music to lead me in worship. Either way, I tried to find a time to worship on Sunday mornings. When I’ve made much of God before I get to church, I find I’m better able to make much of Him.

Pray 

Just before I preach I have a fairly standard prayer. It goes something like this, “God, I can’t do this. You know I’m not worthy to speak on Your behalf. You know and I know that it’s only by Your grace I can be here this morning. If You don’t show up, today will be meaningless.”

That’s how I prepared on Sundays. What’s your process, pastor?

12 Principles of Leadership Inspired by Jesus

By | Church, Church Revitalization, Leadership | 2 Comments

There are many leaders I admire who have influenced my own leadership. I admire the teachings on leadership by guys like John Maxwell, Andy Stanley, and Patrick Lencioni.

There are leaders from my personal life such as a former pastor, a former boss, a high school principal and leaders in my own community who have influenced me as I have watched their leadership.

I also love to learn from a great athletic coach. There have been teams I have chosen to support because of the coach that leads them.

The principles, however, which I admire most are found in the leadership style of Jesus. Jesus’ leadership is still impacting culture today.

Here are 12 leadership principles of Jesus:

He invested in people others would have dismissed.

When I consider the disciples I see a group of men who were not the “religious” elite, yet Jesus used them to start His church.

Jesus released responsibility and ownership in a ministry.

I recall how Jesus sent the disciples out on their own. There was little micro-management it appears.

He had a leadership succession plan. 

Jesus consistently reminded the disciples He wouldn’t always be with them. Of course, He was still the “leader”, but He left others to take the ministry forward.

Jesus practiced servant leadership better than anyone.

Imagine this – the King of kings was willing to wash the feet of His followers.

He was laser focused on His vision.

Regardless of the persecutions or distractions, Jesus kept on the mission God had called Him to complete.

Jesus handled distractions with grace.

When the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years touched His garment, Jesus stopped to heal her, even though headed to a definite purpose.

He was into self-development.

We find Jesus constantly slipping away to spend time with God.

Jesus was into leadership development and replacement.

The disciples were very purposefully prepared to take over the ministry. Jesus pushed people beyond what they felt they were capable of doing.

He held followers to high expectations.

Jesus was not afraid to make huge requests of people. “Follow Me” meant the disciples had to drop their agenda to do so. He told the disciples they must be willing to lose everything to follow Him.

Jesus cared more about people than about rules and regulations.

I see Him willingly jeopardizing Himself by breaking the “rules” to help someone in need.

He celebrated success in ministry.

People that were faithful to Him and His cause were rewarded generously.

Jesus finished well.

Do we have any questions whether His ministry was effective?

Any other reasons you admire the leadership of Jesus?

One Danger In Vision-Casting

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Vision casting can be dangerous for the health of a team.

Sometimes vision-casting can destroy an otherwise healthy team.

I know that goes against what all the great leadership books and experts say, but it’s true. I have been guilty of this one – many times.

The most prolific vision-casters can ruin a good team.

Let me explain.

Casting a vision is one part of success in an organization. It is an important part. I have been known to cast a vision of things to come. My favorite way this happens is to go away for a few days, think, pray, and jot down notes. Then I come back to our team and draw out my thoughts on a whiteboard.

Oh, that’s so much fun! (My team knows when I go out of town it can be dangerous.)

So, yes, casting a vision is an important part of leaders. And, for clarity sake, I’m not talking about the one over-arching vision which drives the organization. I’m talking about the current thoughts in a leader’s mind of where the organization needs to go next week, next month or next year.

There’s more to leading a team than casting vision.

Completing the vision is another, equally important part.

And that’s the danger part of casting vision sometimes. The danger is when the team doesn’t understand the vision, there are no plans created of how to complete it or competing visions are still on the table from the last time I went out of town.

That spells danger for a healthy team!

It won’t matter how well the vision was cast. In fact, in this scenario, it can even do more harm than good if the leader is a really good vision-caster.

Here’s the thing, visions can often appear bigger than life. They can be lofty and stretching for the organization. They can be exciting and inspiring. That’s all good.

But people left without the “how” to complete it may feel discouraged. When people never seem to be able to keep up or complete their assigned tasks they can feel defeated. And if this is repeated over time, they may even feel like failures in their work.

They may even give up and the the vision dies.

Vision-casters, by nature, thrive on casting, so they are continually throwing out the next big idea. It’s fun, exciting, motivating – visionary.

But good leaders continually work to ensure people not only catch the vision, but also understand the how and have the resources to accomplish the vision.

It takes both.

As I’ve self-admitted, I can struggle here as a leader. Part of recognizing this is building discipline into my leadership.

Good leaders:

  • Ask questions to make sure everyone understands the vision
  • Ensure there are plans, strategies, and systems in place
  • Break the vision down into measurable steps or goals
  • Stay with the process during implementation phase
  • Allow the team to push back when there are too many competing visions on the table
  • Set the pace of the team so that there are seasons of pushing hard for what’s new and seasons of implementing
  • Make sure there are built-in seasons of rest for the leader and the team

Have you been on the bad side of vision casting?

5 Qualities in Joseph’s Heart Every Leader Should Seek

By | Church, Encouragement, Leadership | 6 Comments

In this post I’d love to consider the heart of a leader.

Someone asked me recently what I primarily look for in the hiring of a staff position. I said, without reservation, first and foremost, I look for the heart. I want a heart which honors Christ more than self, one which desires to grow and learn, and one which is willing to sacrifice personal privilege for benevolent purpose of others.

The heart of a leader is more important than any other characteristic.

Consider, for example, the life of a Bible character by the name of Joseph. Joseph’s story runs from Genesis 37-50. It’s an amazing story of God’s sovereignty and grace. Joseph is a standard bearer for character in the Old Testament. Some say he’s in many ways an Old Testament example of Christ – not sinless, as Christ was, but certainly a God-fearing man.

I submit his heart we see in Joseph is representative of the kind of heart all leaders should seek to have.

Here are 5 qualities to seek in the heart of a leader:

Imagination

Joseph was a dreamer. It caused him some problems, but he was able to see what others couldn’t see. He saw the big picture. Of course, this came from God, but I believe God has equipped all of us with the ability to dream. It may not be prophetic in nature, but we can seek and find the big picture if we are looking for it.

Integrity

When tempted by Potiphar’s wife and when an opportunity for revenge against his brothers presented itself, Joseph resisted temptation. The leader’s heart must continually seek what is right and good. People are watching and even the perception of evil can ruin a good leader. The heart of a leader must be above reproach.

Investment in Others

Joseph helped the men in prison, he helped the Pharaoh and he even helped his brothers who had hurt him most. Joseph obviously believed the principle that helping others helps yourself. The heart of a leader must be willing to sacrifice his or her own agenda for the agenda of others.

Intentionality

Joseph was diligent during the famine, during the days of prison, even when he had the opportunity to get even with his brothers, but didn’t. Joseph was confident God had a plan for his life, so he refused to be distracted by things of lesser value.

Innovation

Joseph devised an ingenious plan to save the nations from desolation. Using godly wisdom, Joseph conserved the resources he had to accommodate the days of plenty and the days of few.

The ultimate hope of this post is you (and I) would reflect on your own leadership – consider your own heart as a leader.

What could you learn from the heart of Joseph?